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Category Archives: Technology

Leveraging Technology for Organisational Excellence

Technology & HR-Leverage one for the other: “Technology and HR are enablers of business. Integration of the two would mean not only harmonious co-existence but also leveraging one for the other. Leveraging of technology for HR would mean digitizing the mundane HR activities and automating the back office and transactional activities related to recruitment, performance management, career planning, and succession planning, training and knowledge management. Leveraging HR for technology implies managing change associated with technology by way of communication, training, hiring, retraining, stakeholder analysis and conscious keeping. Thus they can play complementary roles.”

Technology and HR both have one thing common i.e., both these are enablers of business.

In recent times, technology has become synonymous with information technology, as hardly any other technological development of the past would have impacted all spectrum of business as information technology has impacted. Irrespective of the kind of business you are in i.e., services or goods, commodity or branded, trading or manufacturing, contemporary or traditional deployment of information technology in one form or the other is a foregone conclusion. To manage and deploy technology in an effective way, all business Organizations would need knowledge workers. Managing of these knowledge workers is the responsibility of HR function. Hence the integration of technology and HR is an absolute must.

Having understood technology and HR in the present context we must understand integration in this context. Integration would not only mean harmonious co-existing but would also mean one enhancing and complementing the other i.e., technology is used to enhance effectiveness of HR and HR functions helps in adopting and managing change which technology deployment brings in.

Leveraging technology for HR

HR management as a function is responsible for deliverables like business strategy execution, administrative efficiency, employee contribution and capacity for change. All these are accomplished through what HR people do i.e., staffing, development, compensation, benefits, communicate organization design, high performing teams and so on. In majority of these areas technology is being deployed.

e-Recruitment

Recruitment is one area where all the companies worth their name leverage IT. There are two different models of e-recruitment, which are in vogue. One is recruitment through company’s own sites and the other is hosting your requirement on the other sites e.g., monster .com, jobsdb.com, jobsahead.com, naukri.com, and jobstreet.com and so on so forth. The first models is more popular with the larger companies who have a brand pull for potential employees e.g., G.E., IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, HCL, ICICI, Reliance, Mindtree consulting etc. Other companies prefer to go to the job sites. Some are adopting both.

E-recruitment has gone a long way since its start. Now these sites have gone global. Sites like jobsahead.com and monster.com have established global network, which encompasses separate sites for jobs in Australia, Denmark, Belgium, and Canada etc. Job seekers are able to search job by region or country and employers target potential employees in specific countries. For example, 3 Com recently posted a company profile on the Ireland site that highlights the contributions of 3 com’s Irish design team in its global projects.

In the early days e-recruitment was plagued with flooding the employers with low-quality bio-data’s. Again technology has come as a savior. Now pre-employment testing like the one introduced by Capital One, a US based financial company, help in filtering the applicants. These tools test online e.g., applicants for call centers. ‘Profile International’ a Texas based provider of employment assessments, has developed tools that allow instant translation of assessment tests between languages. Further developments like video- conference specialized sites, online executives recruitments and combining online and offline methods are leading to more and more companies adopting e-recruitment at least as a secondary recruitment method. Arena Knights Bridge, a US based IT company conducts video based interview of its prospective employees and only short listed employees are met in person. Even Cisco was to launch the same.

Employee Self Service

Employee self-service is perhaps one utility of IT, which has relieved HR of most of mundane tasks and helped it to improve employee satisfaction. Employee self services is a plethora of small activities, which were earlier carried out by employee through administration wing of HR. These are travel bookings, travel rules information, travel bills, leave rules, leave administration, perk administration, etc. Earlier all these rules and information were in the custody of HR. Every user employee was expected to reach out to HR and get it done. Now with deployment of ESS in most of the companies, employee can request for travel related booking online, fill his/her T.E. bills, apply for leave, log time sheet and see his perks value disbursed and due etc. E.g., in Ballarpur Industries Ltd. leave administration is completely digitized in its corporate office. It is working towards digitizing travel related activities, perks and even compensation management and performance management administration. ‘Digitize or outsource all the mundane and routine focus only on core and value add’ – Vineet Chhabra V.P. -PDC BILT.

Communication

Communication which is most talked about management tool has always been a gray area in HR management. In large companies with vast geographical spread communicating with all employees had really posed formidable challenge to HR professionals. Technology has again come for rescue. Starting with telephones, faxes, e-mails and maturing into video conferencing, net cast, web cast etc. communication is one area of HR, which has been greatly benefited by technology. Mouse & click companies like Oracle, IBM has an intranet which caters to most of the information needs of its employees. Brick & Morter companies like BILT also have made a foray into deploying intranet for internal communication, which has corporate notice board, media coverage, and knowledge corners.

Knowledge Management

Another area of HR, which is leveraging technology, is employee development. Programmed learning (PL) i.e. learning at its own pace is one of the most effective ways of adult learning. Use of technology for this purpose can’t be over emphasized. Aptech Online University and ‘The Manage mentor’ are some of the Indian sites, which are in this business knowledge management, which is an integral part of any learning organization, which cannot become a reality without technology. Companies can harness the knowledge of its employees by cataloging and hosting it on the intranet. Talk to ‘Big-5′ or not ‘so big’ consulting companies you will find that main stay of their business is the knowledge repository. Technology has enabled them to retrieve it swiftly. In the competitive environment where speed is the name of game technology driven Knowledge Management constantly provides a strategic advantage.

If you look at HR module of ERP solutions like people soft, SAP, Oracle and Ramco they provide you with a comprehensive package which helps in man-power planning, recruitment, performance management, training and development, career planning, succession planning, separation and grievance handling. A transaction happening in all these areas are digitized and form a closed loop ensuring employee database is always updated. E.g. a joining letter of a new employee is system generated. It will be printed only when all mandatory fields of information are entered. Similarly a transfer order or a separation letter is issued from the system only if that transaction has been carried out in the system.

For career planning, success planning, skill and competencies matrix methods are used by most of these systems. They search an employee with the required skills first in the in-house database of employees. Once put in practice in letter & spirit, this system not only enhances business results by matching the right candidate for right job but also improves retention of employees.

Processing payroll, churning out time office reports, providing HR-MIS are some other routine activities of HR which have been off-loaded to technology.

Leveraging HR for Technology

All HR professionals, preaching or practicing, learning or experimenting, teaching or studying have experienced leveraging technology for HR. But most of us come across a situation where we need to leverage HR for technology. Let us understand what do we mean by this.

Whenever technology is deployed afresh or upgraded it involves a change. The change may be at the activity level e.g., applying for leave through the intranet or at the mental model level e.g., digitizing the process succession planning which have been HR professionals forte. The people have always registered adopting change. This is one area where HR professionals are to deliver i.e., become change agents and lead the process of technology and change adoption. The resistance to change is directly proportional to speed of change. Now speed of change has increased and hence resistance.

Just to take an example, most of ERP implementation in the world have not been able to deliver all the expectations. Some of these have failed to deliver at all. While analyzing the cause of failure it has been observed that 96% of failures are because of people related issues and only 4% are because of technology.

It is the people who make the difference; hence HR should exploit its expertise to facilitate the adoption of technology. I would like to put together some of the thoughts on what HR should do for this.

At the time of recruitment, stop hiring for skills rather hire for attitude and a learning mind. Skills of today are no longer valid tomorrow. Managing ever changing change is the only criteria for success.

Functional or technical skills can be acquired during the job. Hence recruitment in the technology era needs to undergo a paradigm shift i.e., from a skill/competency based it needs to be attitude and learning mind/ ability based interview. That would translate into hiring for skills for future. In IBM every employee has to fill in his/her individual development plan where the employee commits its learning one/two new skills every year thus remaining competitive every time.

If we look at the chemistry of resistance to change it is either a skill issue or a will issue. To address the will issue we need to work at a comprehensive solution starting from recruitment (as discussed earlier), reward, compensation and leading to organization culture which promotes change. A living example is 3M, a US based company, where innovation is way of life, where 10% of revenue must come from new products every year. For them change becomes way of life.

To address the will issue further organization need to prepare a communication strategy which creates a ‘pull’ for the technology. For example, in Ranbaxy, when they went for SAP implementation they anticipated resistance. To address this they started a house journal, which was aimed at educating the employees on the benefits, which will result from adoption of ERP, SAP. This created a need rather a potential need or a latent need was brought out. Adoption of ERP did not become much of a problem.

At times adoption of technologies is perceived as a threat by the employees e.g., automation leading to reduction in workers, office automation leading to retrenchment of clerks etc. HR needs to be associated with the technical adoption right from the beginning till the end. At the selection of technical stage if HR is associated, it can map the skills required and create a pull during implementation and adoption. Post adoption it can release the excess non-re-allocatable employees.

To understand this process more clearly we can take example of ERP implementation. ERP is taken as an example as this is one technology adoption which effects employees across the org. irrespective of function and position. Any other automation may have affected only a segment of organisation. ERP implementation in any organization goes through the following stages.

1. Selection of package

2. Business analysis

3. Solution design

4. Configuration and customization

5. Conference room piloting (CRP)

6. Go-live and production

At each stage HR has to play a role, which will help in mitigating resistance to change.

During selection process, the change agent can understand the business benefit ERP would bring. This would help him to draw a comprehensive communication plant aimed at creating a ‘pull’ for the change. The communication plan may use its various weapons from the armory. The obvious examples are Newsletters, Newsflash. In-house journal, addressing by the top management, web cast, open house sessions, meetings formal and informal.

During the business analysis phase implementation team is supposed to analyse the existing business processes. At times this leads to surfacing of some data which is not very desirable by the process owners, leading to resistance at this stage, HR has to be again proactive and carry out a detailed stake-holder analysis. Such an analysis should give a lead to potential areas of problem and potential champions of change.

Solution design involves defining ‘To-be processes’ i.e., the way business would be carried out in future. At this stage HR has to play the role of catalyst to turn the heat on. The idea is to ensure to make maximum out of an opportunity of package enabled business transformation. HR can play a role by arranging to educate and train the right people on best business practices, just before this phase.

During the configuration and customization HR has to keep on beating the drum, the customization of a standard package is a big no-no. Similarly, during the conference room plotting (CRP) it should help in identifying the right persons to be involved in CRP. A thorough testing at this stage would result in lesser pain at the time of going live. This is also time to focus on training of end users, the employees who are going to use the system once implemented. Training- retraining -training to ensure all the prospective users are comfortable with usage of software before the system goes live.

During the go-live stage HR has to work over time to keep the motivation levels high. This is the time when management starts losing patience as one glitch after the other keeps appearing and virtually bringing the business to halt. At this stage, HR has to play ‘conscious keeper’ for the top management once into product relocating the surplus is a challenge for which it has to be prepared before it.

This examples makes it clear that involvement of HR during the entire life cycle of technology is valuable. ERP is not an isolated case. It is true for any other technology adoption only finer details may vary. Hence HR must play a proactive role rather than being just a silent spectator or mere executers of the wishes of business or chief technology officer in case of technological changes.

Technological Innovation Through Tech Mining For Market Dominance

Innovation means technological change. The technology change results in practical implication or commercialization, it does not mean just generation of ideas. The importance of technological innovation in today’s competitive economy is very clear, as today the worldwide economy depends on technology and technological innovation to an extraordinary degree.

Technological innovation plays important role in the economical growth of any country. Us, Japan, and other European countries are developed only due to there technological progress. In recent years, Singapore, India, China and many other countries are advancing dramatically due to technological innovations and progress. High technology companies are a significant and growing component of the economy. The competitive of these companies depends on technological innovations. Innovations improves standard of living. Developments in medical and pharmaceutical technologies have delivered extensive returns in health and life span.

Technological innovation involves tech mining. Tech mining includes understanding the technological innovation processes to track them more effectively and get informed about latest happenings and make valuable business decisions about R&D and subsequent implementation and adoption choices.

Innovation is defined as the process by which technological ideas are generated, developed and transformed into new business products, process and services that are used to make a profit and establish marketplace advantage. A better understanding of the innovation process is essential to figure out empirical measures deriving from innovation activities to generate actionable technological intelligence.

Tech mining is done through data or information extraction from multiple data sources, compilation and analyzing the results and represents key findings in actionable visual representation for easy understanding to what is happening now and predicting the future technologies.

Various types of technology analysis that can be aided by tech mining is as follows:

(A) Technology Monitoring (technology watch) – cataloguing, characterizing, identifying and interpreting technology development activities

(B) Competitive Technological Intelligence (CTI) -exploring out “Who is doing what?”

(C) Technology Forecasting-anticipating possible future development paths for particular technology domains

(D) Technology Road mapping – tracking evolutionary steps in related technologies and, sometimes, product families, technology diversification and technology tree

(E) Technology Assessment – anticipating the possible unintended, direct, indirect, and delayed consequences of particular technological changes

(F) Technology Foresight – strategic planning (especially national) with emphasis on technology roles and priorities

(G) Technology Process Management – getting people involved to make decisions about technology

(H) Science and Technology Indicators – time series that track advances in national (or other) technological capabilities

Reasons to Do Tech Mining

Forecast likely development paths for emerging technologies – identify new products, research or service opportunity
Identify competitors, or collaborators, at the “fuzzy front end” of new product development – keep tract of your competitor’s activity for market dominance.
Identify potential customers for your intellectual property (“IP”) – new licensing, collaboration, acquisition and merger opportunities.
Discover additional application arenas for the outputs of your R&D – identify how to develop new products and services from your existing business processes, without inventing more.
Gauge market potential for prospective technology-based products and services
Be a wiser consumer of others’ science and technology
Manage the risks of technology development and implementation based on better information.

Impacts of Information Technology on Society in the New Century

In the past few decades there has been a revolution in computing and communications, and all indications are that technological progress and use of information technology will continue at a rapid pace. Accompanying and supporting the dramatic increases in the power and use of new information technologies has been the declining cost of communications as a result of both technological improvements and increased competition. According to Moore’s law the processing power of microchips is doubling every 18 months. These advances present many significant opportunities but also pose major challenges. Today, innovations in information technology are having wide-ranging effects across numerous domains of society, and policy makers are acting on issues involving economic productivity, intellectual property rights, privacy protection, and affordability of and access to information. Choices made now will have long lasting consequences, and attention must be paid to their social and economic impacts.

One of the most significant outcomes of the progress of information technology is probably electronic commerce over the Internet, a new way of conducting business. Though only a few years old, it may radically alter economic activities and the social environment. Already, it affects such large sectors as communications, finance and retail trade and might expand to areas such as education and health services. It implies the seamless application of information and communication technology along the entire value chain of a business that is conducted electronically.

The impacts of information technology and electronic commerce on business models, commerce, market structure, workplace, labour market, education, private life and society as a whole.

1. Business Models, Commerce and Market Structure

One important way in which information technology is affecting work is by reducing the importance of distance. In many industries, the geographic distribution of work is changing significantly. For instance, some software firms have found that they can overcome the tight local market for software engineers by sending projects to India or other nations where the wages are much lower. Furthermore, such arrangements can take advantage of the time differences so that critical projects can be worked on nearly around the clock. Firms can outsource their manufacturing to other nations and rely on telecommunications to keep marketing, R&D, and distribution teams in close contact with the manufacturing groups. Thus the technology can enable a finer division of labour among countries, which in turn affects the relative demand for various skills in each nation. The technology enables various types of work and employment to be decoupled from one another. Firms have greater freedom to locate their economic activities, creating greater competition among regions in infrastructure, labour, capital, and other resource markets. It also opens the door for regulatory arbitrage: firms can increasingly choose which tax authority and other regulations apply.

Computers and communication technologies also promote more market-like forms of production and distribution. An infrastructure of computing and communication technology, providing 24-hour access at low cost to almost any kind of price and product information desired by buyers, will reduce the informational barriers to efficient market operation. This infrastructure might also provide the means for effecting real-time transactions and make intermediaries such as sales clerks, stock brokers and travel agents, whose function is to provide an essential information link between buyers and sellers, redundant. Removal of intermediaries would reduce the costs in the production and distribution value chain. The information technologies have facilitated the evolution of enhanced mail order retailing, in which goods can be ordered quickly by using telephones or computer networks and then dispatched by suppliers through integrated transport companies that rely extensively on computers and communication technologies to control their operations. Nonphysical goods, such as software, can be shipped electronically, eliminating the entire transport channel. Payments can be done in new ways. The result is disintermediation throughout the distribution channel, with cost reduction, lower end-consumer prices, and higher profit margins.

The impact of information technology on the firms’ cost structure can be best illustrated on the electronic commerce example. The key areas of cost reduction when carrying out a sale via electronic commerce rather than in a traditional store involve physical establishment, order placement and execution, customer support, strong, inventory carrying, and distribution. Although setting up and maintaining an e-commerce web site might be expensive, it is certainly less expensive to maintain such a storefront than a physical one because it is always open, can be accessed by millions around the globe, and has few variable costs, so that it can scale up to meet the demand. By maintaining one ‘store’ instead of several, duplicate inventory costs are eliminated. In addition, e-commerce is very effective at reducing the costs of attracting new customers, because advertising is typically cheaper than for other media and more targeted. Moreover, the electronic interface allows e-commerce merchants to check that an order is internally consistent and that the order, receipt, and invoice match. Through e-commerce, firms are able to move much of their customer support on line so that customers can access databases or manuals directly. This significantly cuts costs while generally improving the quality of service. E-commerce shops require far fewer, but high-skilled, employees. E-commerce also permits savings in inventory carrying costs. The faster the input can be ordered and delivered, the less the need for a large inventory. The impact on costs associated with decreased inventories is most pronounced in industries where the product has a limited shelf life (e.g. bananas), is subject to fast technological obsolescence or price declines (e.g. computers), or where there is a rapid flow of new products (e.g. books, music). Although shipping costs can increase the cost of many products purchased via electronic commerce and add substantially to the final price, distribution costs are significantly reduced for digital products such as financial services, software, and travel, which are important e-commerce segments.

Although electronic commerce causes the disintermediation of some intermediaries, it creates greater dependency on others and also some entirely new intermediary functions. Among the intermediary services that could add costs to e-commerce transactions are advertising, secure online payment, and delivery. The relative ease of becoming an e-commerce merchant and setting up stores results in such a huge number of offerings that consumers can easily be overwhelmed. This increases the importance of using advertising to establish a brand name and thus generate consumer familiarity and trust. For new e-commerce start-ups, this process can be expensive and represents a significant transaction cost. The openness, global reach, and lack of physical clues that are inherent characteristics of e-commerce also make it vulnerable to fraud and thus increase certain costs for e-commerce merchants as compared to traditional stores. New techniques are being developed to protect the use of credit cards in e-commerce transactions, but the need for greater security and user verification leads to increased costs. A key feature of e-commerce is the convenience of having purchases delivered directly. In the case of tangibles, such as books, this incurs delivery costs, which cause prices to rise in most cases, thereby negating many of the savings associated with e-commerce and substantially adding to transaction costs.

With the Internet, e-commerce is rapidly expanding into a fast-moving, open global market with an ever-increasing number of participants. The open and global nature of e-commerce is likely to increase market size and change market structure, both in terms of the number and size of players and the way in which players compete on international markets. Digitized products can cross the border in real time, consumers can shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and firms are increasingly faced with international online competition. The Internet is helping to enlarge existing markets by cutting through many of the distribution and marketing barriers that can prevent firms from gaining access to foreign markets. E-commerce lowers information and transaction costs for operating on overseas markets and provides a cheap and efficient way to strengthen customer-supplier relations. It also encourages companies to develop innovative ways of advertising, delivering and supporting their product and services. While e-commerce on the Internet offers the potential for global markets, certain factors, such as language, transport costs, local reputation, as well as differences in the cost and ease of access to networks, attenuate this potential to a greater or lesser extent.

2. Workplace and Labour Market

Computers and communication technologies allow individuals to communicate with one another in ways complementary to traditional face-to-face, telephonic, and written modes. They enable collaborative work involving distributed communities of actors who seldom, if ever, meet physically. These technologies utilize communication infrastructures that are both global and always up, thus enabling 24-hour activity and asynchronous as well as synchronous interactions among individuals, groups, and organizations. Social interaction in organizations will be affected by use of computers and communication technologies. Peer-to-peer relations across department lines will be enhanced through sharing of information and coordination of activities. Interaction between superiors and subordinates will become more tense because of social control issues raised by the use of computerized monitoring systems, but on the other hand, the use of e-mail will lower the barriers to communications across different status levels, resulting in more uninhibited communications between supervisor and subordinates.

That the importance of distance will be reduced by computers and communication technology also favours telecommuting, and thus, has implications for the residence patterns of the citizens. As workers find that they can do most of their work at home rather than in a centralized workplace, the demand for homes in climatically and physically attractive regions would increase. The consequences of such a shift in employment from the suburbs to more remote areas would be profound. Property values would rise in the favoured destinations and fall in the suburbs. Rural, historical, or charming aspects of life and the environment in the newly attractive areas would be threatened. Since most telecommuters would be among the better educated and higher paid, the demand in these areas for high-income and high-status services like gourmet restaurants and clothing boutiques would increase. Also would there be an expansion of services of all types, creating and expanding job opportunities for the local population.

By reducing the fixed cost of employment, widespread telecommuting should make it easier for individuals to work on flexible schedules, to work part time, to share jobs, or to hold two or more jobs simultaneously. Since changing employers would not necessarily require changing one’s place of residence, telecommuting should increase job mobility and speed career advancement. This increased flexibility might also reduce job stress and increase job satisfaction. Since job stress is a major factor governing health there may be additional benefits in the form of reduced health costs and mortality rates. On the other hand one might also argue that technologies, by expanding the number of different tasks that are expected of workers and the array of skills needed to perform these tasks, might speed up work and increase the level of stress and time pressure on workers.

A question that is more difficult to be answered is about the impacts that computers and communications might have on employment. The ability of computers and communications to perform routine tasks such as bookkeeping more rapidly than humans leads to concern that people will be replaced by computers and communications. The response to this argument is that even if computers and communications lead to the elimination of some workers, other jobs will be created, particularly for computer professionals, and that growth in output will increase overall employment. It is more likely that computers and communications will lead to changes in the types of workers needed for different occupations rather than to changes in total employment.

A number of industries are affected by electronic commerce. The distribution sector is directly affected, as e-commerce is a way of supplying and delivering goods and services. Other industries, indirectly affected, are those related to information and communication technology (the infrastructure that enables e-commerce), content-related industries (entertainment, software), transactions-related industries (financial sector, advertising, travel, transport). eCommerce might also create new markets or extend market reach beyond traditional borders. Enlarging the market will have a positive effect on jobs. Another important issue relates to inter linkages among activities affected by e-commerce. Expenditure for e-commerce-related intermediate goods and services will create jobs indirectly, on the basis of the volume of electronic transactions and their effect on prices, costs and productivity. The convergence of media, telecommunication and computing technologies is creating a new integrated supply chain for the production and delivery of multimedia and information content. Most of the employment related to e-commerce around the content industries and communication infrastructure such as the Internet.

Jobs are both created and destroyed by technology, trade, and organizational change. These processes also underlie changes in the skill composition of employment. Beyond the net employment gains or losses brought about by these factors, it is apparent that workers with different skill levels will be affected differently. E-commerce is certainly driving the demand for IT professionals but it also requires IT expertise to be coupled with strong business application skills, thereby generating demand for a flexible, multi-skilled work force. There is a growing need for increased integration of Internet front-end applications with enterprise operations, applications and back-end databases. Many of the IT skill requirements needed for Internet support can be met by low-paid IT workers who can deal with the organizational services needed for basic web page programming. However, wide area networks, competitive web sites, and complex network applications require much more skill than a platform-specific IT job. Since the skills required for e-commerce are rare and in high demand, e-commerce might accelerate the up skilling trend in many countries by requiring high-skilled computer scientists to replace low-skilled information clerks, cashiers and market salespersons.

3. Education

Advances in information technology will affect the craft of teaching by complementing rather than eliminating traditional classroom instruction. Indeed the effective instructor acts in a mixture of roles. In one role the instructor is a supplier of services to the students, who might be regarded as its customers. But the effective instructor occupies another role as well, as a supervisor of students, and plays a role in motivating, encouraging, evaluating, and developing students. For any topic there will always be a small percentage of students with the necessary background, motivation, and self-discipline to learn from self-paced workbooks or computer assisted instruction. For the majority of students, however, the presence of a live instructor will continue to be far more effective than a computer assisted counterpart in facilitating positive educational outcomes. The greatest potential for new information technology lies in improving the productivity of time spent outside the classroom. Making solutions to problem sets and assigned reading materials available on the Internet offers a lot of convenience. E-mail vastly simplifies communication between students and faculty and among students who may be engaged in group projects. Advances in information technology will affect the craft of teaching by complementing rather than eliminating traditional classroom instruction. Indeed the effective instructor acts in a mixture of roles. In one role the instructor is a supplier of services to the students, who might be regarded as its customers. But the effective instructor occupies another role as well, as a supervisor of students, and plays a role in motivating, encouraging, evaluating, and developing students. For any topic there will always be a small percentage of students with the necessary background, motivation, and self-discipline to learn from self-paced workbooks or computer assisted instruction. For the majority of students, however, the presence of a live instructor will continue to be far more effective than a computer assisted counterpart in facilitating positive educational outcomes. The greatest potential for new information technology lies in improving the productivity of time spent outside the classroom. Making solutions to problem sets and assigned reading materials available on the Internet offers a lot of convenience. E-mail vastly simplifies communication between students and faculty and among students who may be engaged in group projects.

Although distance learning has existed for some time, the Internet makes possible a large expansion in coverage and better delivery of instruction. Text can be combined with audio/ video, and students can interact in real time via e-mail and discussion groups. Such technical improvements coincide with a general demand for retraining by those who, due to work and family demands, cannot attend traditional courses. Distance learning via the Internet is likely to complement existing schools for children and university students, but it could have more of a substitution effect for continuing education programmes. For some degree programmes, high-prestige institutions could use their reputation to attract students who would otherwise attend a local facility. Owing to the Internet’s ease of access and convenience for distance learning, overall demand for such programmes will probably expand, leading to growth in this segment of e-commerce.

As shown in the previous section, high level skills are vital in a technology-based and knowledge intensive economy. Changes associated with rapid technological advances in industry have made continual upgrading of professional skills an economic necessity. The goal of lifelong learning can only be accomplished by reinforcing and adapting existing systems of learning, both in public and private sectors. The demand for education and training concerns the full range of modern technology. Information technologies are uniquely capable of providing ways to meet this demand. Online training via the Internet ranges from accessing self-study courses to complete electronic classrooms. These computer-based training programmes provide flexibility in skills acquisition and are more affordable and relevant than more traditional seminars and courses.

4. Private Life and Society

Increasing representation of a wide variety of content in digital form results in easier and cheaper duplication and distribution of information. This has a mixed effect on the provision of content. On the one hand, content can be distributed at a lower unit cost. On the other hand, distribution of content outside of channels that respect intellectual property rights can reduce the incentives of creators and distributors to produce and make content available in the first place. Information technology raises a host of questions about intellectual property protection and new tools and regulations have to be developed in order to solve this problem.

Many issues also surround free speech and regulation of content on the Internet, and there continue to be calls for mechanisms to control objectionable content. However it is very difficult to find a sensible solution. Dealing with indecent material involves understanding not only the views on such topics but also their evolution over time. Furthermore, the same technology that allows for content altering with respect to decency can be used to filter political speech and to restrict access to political material. Thus, if censorship does not appear to be an option, a possible solution might be labelling. The idea is that consumers will be better informed in their decisions to avoid objectionable content.

The rapid increase in computing and communications power has raised considerable concern about privacy both in the public and private sector. Decreases in the cost of data storage and information processing make it likely that it will become practicable for both government and private data-mining enterprises to collect detailed dossiers on all citizens. Nobody knows who currently collects data about individuals, how this data is used and shared or how this data might be misused. These concerns lower the consumers’ trust in online institutions and communication and, thus, inhibit the development of electronic commerce. A technological approach to protecting privacy might by cryptography although it might be claimed that cryptography presents a serious barrier to criminal investigations.

It is popular wisdom that people today suffer information overload. A lot of the information available on the Internet is incomplete and even incorrect. People spend more and more of their time absorbing irrelevant information just because it is available and they think they should know about it. Therefore, it must be studied how people assign credibility to the information they collect in order to invent and develop new credibility systems to help consumers to manage the information overload.

Technological progress inevitably creates dependence on technology. Indeed the creation of vital infrastructure ensures dependence on that infrastructure. As surely as the world is now dependent on its transport, telephone, and other infrastructures, it will be dependent on the emerging information infrastructure. Dependence on technology can bring risks. Failures in the technological infrastructure can cause the collapse of economic and social functionality. Blackouts of long-distance telephone service, credit data systems, and electronic funds transfer systems, and other such vital communications and information processing services would undoubtedly cause widespread economic disruption. However, it is probably impossible to avoid technological dependence. Therefore, what must be considered is the exposure brought from dependence on technologies with a recognizable probability of failure, no workable substitute at hand, and high costs as a result of failure.